Pales­tini­ans cel­e­brate Yasser Arafat

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

PALES­TINI­ANS yes­ter­day marked the 10th an­niver­sary of the death of Yasser Arafat, who for decades led their cause for an in­de­pen­dent state.

Arafat, who was 75, was be­ing re­mem­bered at a wreath-lay­ing cer­e­mony at his tomb in the West Bank city of Ra­mal­lah, at­tended by Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas.

But a large rally sched­uled for Gaza was can­celled fol­low­ing a se­ries of ex­plo­sions tar­get­ing the site of the event, as well as the prop­erty and cars of of­fi­cials of Ab­bas’s Fatah party, which was founded by Arafat.

Arafat be­came the head of the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (PLO), an um­brella group in which Fatah is the lead­ing fac­tion, in 1969. Ini­tially op­er­at­ing against Is­rael from ex­ile in Arab coun­tries, he re­turned to the West Bank fol­low­ing the 1993 in­terim Oslo peace ac­cords.

But vi­o­lence and stale­mate de­railed the peace process and Arafat spent the last phase of his life un­der siege at his Ra­mal­lah head­quar­ters, with Is­raeli tanks out­side. Is­rael had de­clared him an “ob­sta­cle to peace” be­cause of his dual support for armed at­tacks and peace ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Arafat was later trans­ferred to a hos­pi­tal near Paris, where he died on Novem­ber 11, 2004 – ac­cord­ing to hos­pi­tal records of a brain haem­or­rhage caused by com­pli­ca­tions from a bowel in­fec­tion.

In Novem­ber last year, a Swiss study of ex­humed sam­ples of Arafat’s re­mains found high lev­els of polo- nium, which “mod­er­ately” sup­ported a hy­poth­e­sis that he could have been poi­soned with the ra­dioac­tive ma­te­rial – an al­le­ga­tion put for­ward by his widow Suha. But sep­a­rate French and Rus­sian stud­ies con­cluded he died of nat­u­ral causes. The Swiss study also ac­knowl­edged that the polo­nium could have been nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring in air pock­ets or soil around Arafat’s de­com­pos­ing re­mains.

Nonethe­less a the­ory that Arafat was poi­soned by Is­rael is still be­lieved by many Pales­tini­ans.

For vir­tu­ally his en­tire adult life, Arafat had one dream, and he pur­sued it with such en­ergy and zeal that he came to per­son­ify the dream it­self.

The dream was of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and state­hood for the Pales­tinian peo­ple, and in the end he did not live to see it. But the sheer the­atri­cal force of his per­son­al­ity al­lowed him to almost sin­gle-hand­edly el­e­vate the griev­ances of a few mil­lion dis­en­fran­chised Pales­tini­ans to a prom­i­nent place on the world’s po­lit­i­cal agenda.

He was re­viled by many Is­raelis, who saw in him a mod­ern-day Hitler, revered by many Arabs, who loved him for restor­ing their shat­tered sense of hon­our, and li­onised by the Nor­we­gian Nobel Com­mit­tee, which awarded him the Peace Prize in 1994.

But although he was not uni­ver­sally adored by them, to Pales­tini­ans, for whom Arafat forged an iden­tity as a dis­tinct peo­ple striv­ing for na­tional lib­er­a­tion, he was larger than life. – Sapa-dpa, The Wash­ing­ton Post


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